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Designing for Whom?

The failure of architecture to appeal to the general public.

One of the many definitions of architecture is the art of designing buildings and other kinds of spatial constructions. It differs however from most other arts in that architectural works, whatever their aesthetic or even academic value may be, are also designed to cater to a specific group of people’s wants and needs and to fulfill specific functions. Furthermore, matters of safety and well-being are, or at the very least should be, an important factor in the design process. Architecture being so inseparable from its users, it would be unwise to not take their opinions into account in discussions regarding its success. The architectural press has not concerned itself with those opinions in the past, thus they have largely remained unpublicized. The development of the internet and the various social media platforms has allowed members of the general public, however, to reach a substantially larger audience than ever before, bringing their opinions to the forefront for the first time in the history of architecture.

The feedback loop that is then created has led, naturally, to discussions concerning the role of people without formal architectural education in the design process, and the weight of their opinions.

Often, negative public reaction is attributed to undeveloped aesthetic sensibilities and lack of architectural education, the opinions being then underestimated or even outright rejected without critical examination. This arrogant blame game and call for education does nothing more than deflect the blame to third-parties. When criticism is delivered by a user, regardless of background, it cannot be ignored.

Where doubts are more substantial is in matters concerning public participation in the design process or the selection of competition winners. The ability of the average person to “read” architectural plans and discern their qualities or issues is disputed. The concern is then raised of public opinion being dependent on superficial criteria, such as a beautiful facade or appealing renders in an option’s presentation.

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